Typography, Systems and Theory

Type and Press

Back in the day, if you wanted to make a book you had to do it yourself. The only way of reproducing something would be to write it again –   usually a scribe laboriously reproducing a manuscript. Monks would write out the bible and religious texts.

Movable type

Because letters are mirrored, because they have to come out correctly when you print them onto paper, it is quite confusing putting them together and connecting them in a galley (small metal container). It is easy to print backwards if you are a first timer. Hans Gutenberg was the first person to create the type. It is very easy to make mistakes with this method.

The 42-lined bible was Hans Gutenberg’s famous piece. He was able to produce a much cheaper print with this method, although the process was still very lengthy.

The term upper and lower case is from a physical box that used to hold all of the letters for a printer at the time.

With movable type you pick out the letters but you also you pick out the spaces. Everything is a decision. It is amazing to see how much effort goes into setting a line of type and how many parameters there are with this process.

Rolling a cylinder is another method. This moves across the bottom plate with the chosen set type is another method that was invented but there were many people that thought that this method could be improved.

A Linotype machine – made from metal – would allow you to type out a line at a time, reducing the number of letters that needed setting. After an entire page had been printed, you would then make a cylinder for the actual printing, with the page embossed onto it. You would apply ink to this and then roll the cylinder over the paper in order to print. These Linotype machines were used fro a long time.

Because it was so noisy in the Linotype factories, deaf people were commonly employed. They had a fascinating ways of communicating together within the factory.

Paste ups – where you have all kinds of elements put together on a singular sheet and attached with glue and tape and then use photographic reproduction to make that into a plate instead. This is a cheaper way of reproducing letters.


Photo type settings – Using photo paper film with a rotating wheel with the type phone cut into it. Then light is blasted through it onto the paper which creates text.

Making a cut in the corners of the fonts stops the ink from bleeding in the print, making a clearer and more precise print

Most of the time you will not find a machine that prints colours altogether but separately in different rolls and that is the same today.

When we look at a screen it is made up of a variety of different colours; some blend into black but if you look closely around the black there is a barely black hue. This is because we don’t have enough pixels at the moment to make this clearer.

Type and Design 

X-height – height of the lowercase letter

Overshoot – the letter will shoot over the line in order to optically look the same height as the straight, the stem or the horizontal on the T

Cap Height – the height of the capital letters

Letter spacing – the space between the letters (lead in letter presses or in digital it is a small piece of information)

Serif  – fonts with a serif on them.

Leading – referring to the piece of lead between each type

The stem – The main vertical section of the letter

Baseline – the line on which the main part of the letter rests

Descender – which is what descends below the baseline

Ascender – which are the letters that ascends above the X-height

Aperture – an open shape for example a ‘c’

Edward Johnson drawing for what would later become his Johnson typeface which would then be reinterpreted and called ‘New Johnson’ and now is used by the London underground and provides strong inspirations for typefaces like Gil

There are many ways of characterizing typefaces; it is beneficial for a graphic designer to design typefaces to some extent, but you don’t have to become a type scholar. It is useful to be able to identify and differentiate typefaces and what they all mean. For example, the Blackletter has been connected to National Socialism in Germany so it has specific connotations.

This is an example of Dadaism, the art form that found its way into the world around the time of the First World War. It is an extremely free use of type. Using type as illustration in mixed up compositions.

Using type to render sounds and repetitions. You see type at angles start to appear

Book – The Crystal Goblet by Beatrice Warde

Wards argues that printing should be invisible. She uses the crystal goblet as a metaphor. So, if you look at someone who is wanting to drink wine, the notion is that you want to be able to see what you are consuming and understanding it to its core. The more ornamental a goblet is itself, the less it allows you to see what it contains. Printing should take on the role of the goblet and be  something that is invisible and not something that you see; you are interested in seeing the meaning of the letters but not the letters themselves. Many people have challenged this concept: it is a very important  and divisive notion.


The Bauhaus school had some interesting ideas about typography- notable the Herbert Bayer sketch for a universal type. The concept was that the existence of upper case and lower case is somehow inherently classist and that the alphabet should only be one case. The idea didn’t take off but was very radical in its time. This particular font design was very famous for the Bauhaus.

There was a focus on systems around this time, programmed and systematic shapes. Everything is about the system and not so much about the meaning.

Neville Brody – Known for his work in The Face Magazine (1981–1986); he also designed record covers.

Everything is possible with his work: he ignored existing rules and tried to establish a completely different style.

David Carson is known for his dry transfer lettering and, in particular, for perfecting a grungy, trashy style of lettering. If you don’t rub a letter down properly, you get a glitch in the letter and it is interesting for us to see this as a reference to progression in the ways in which we produce letters.

There are so many programs now which allow you to set your type and also design type, but where does this leave the designer if software can already create and design type?

I think that it is important for us to carry on pushing the boundaries of type beyond the capabilities of software, developing new and innovative ways of representing and communicating complex human thought processes.


Book: New Perspectives in Typography by Scott Williams and Henrik Kubel

Publisher: Laurence King

I have picked out some sections of this book that really resonated with me and helped me to understand typography a little better. I found it very interesting and it made me realise how little I know about this area but also how much of an impact typography can make on us day to day.

Book: Type and Typography (Structure) by Phil Baines and Andrew Haslam

Publisher: Laurence King

Here are a few sections of the book that have helped me to understand the structure of type and typography a little better and to begin to understand how I should chose type and position it on the page.